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Sanitation in the circular economy: Transformation to a commercially valuable, self-sustaining, biological system

The TBC is a business-led coalition sharing a common vision to accelerate the pace of change to achieve universal access to sanitation. TBC works at the systems level to co-create the necessary ecosystem to support sanitation businesses to scale with promising businesses in low-income markets that have the potential to deliver smart, sustainable and resilient sanitation for all. In 2016 the Toilet Board Coalition ran a feasibility study to explore the potential role of sanitation in the circular economy.

The following questions were at the centre of the inquiry:
• Are there products or materials of value being upcycled from toilet resources?
• Are there scalable business models to deliver sustainable supply of these products to the market?
• Is there commercial interest and demand from large industrial operations to become buyers into the system?

The study engaged twelve small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) engaged in sanitation across low income markets, and twelve experts from multinational corporations, academia, and specialists from across the “waste”, or rather resource, management value chain. The approach was to understand the business, technical and customer demand feasibility of each of the twelve SME businesses where it saw potential for Circular Economy transactions. The approach focused on business transactions, particularly those already occurring in the market for toilet resources, and on the potential for scale through demand from industrial supply chains.

This paper presents the findings of the study in the form of a thought piece on the topic of sanitation in the Circular Economy. The intent is to present a number of business opportunity spaces, where it is believed that value has been left on the table and customer needs unmet, which we recommend are to be explored further in the decade ahead. The transition to sanitation in the Circular Economy, and unlocking promising business opportunity associated with it, will not be without risk. The study and this paper also cites the risks in optimising and scaling the business opportunities identified, and suggests potential pathways for these risks to be overcome.